Peace is not absence of war; it’s a dynamic balance between self-interest and the common good.
Everyone thinks that peace is just a word, a fantasy of slightly “unhinged” individuals, or a required platitude of politicians during election campaigns and pageant contestants when asked about their vision for a better world. In reality, no one is looking for peace. Instead we make up band-aid treatment laws to prevent us from turning our world into a last-one-standing battleground. But does it really have to be this way?
When we look at nature around us, we see that despite the constant struggles for survival, it maintains a balance that fosters growth and prosperity. In fact, the struggles actually contribute to the healthy evolution of species. Rival species complement one another, and by feeding off each other they maintain one another’s health and vitality. The existence of predators guarantees the prosperity of the entire food chain.
But we are not merely animals. In addition to our instincts, we have emotions and thoughts that dictate our behavior and give us the possibility of free choice.
And yet, in one crucial element we have no free choice whatsoever: the motivation for our actions. At the end of the day, everything we do is for ourselves. We manipulate ourselves and others into thinking that we act in their favor, while deep down, self-interest guides our every move.
If this is the case, how can we not fight one another? How can there be real peace?
Complementing Instead of Competing
Two forces coexist in nature: a negative force of self-interest and a positive force that promotes mutuality, consideration, and thinking about the common good. Ecosystems naturally balance the two forces so they complement one another. The apparent competition actually generates homeostasis, a harmonious coexistence that fosters life and development.
In humans, the positive force is dormant, creating a crippled society that must enforce binding restrictions to stop us from destroying one another at the first opportunity. Worse yet, the negative force within us keeps intensifying, compelling us to perpetually tighten the restrictions that society imposes on people. We are quickly nearing a point where the tension between restrictions and personal freedom will become unbearable, and society will collapse—through war, revolution, or some other mayhem.
The Hebrew word shalom (peace) comes from the word shlemut (completeness) or hashlama (complementing/completion). In other words, peace is not merely absence of war. It is a conscious effort to complement the negative force with the positive one in the same way that nature does on all other levels but our own.
Peace and Freedom Go Together
In order to create peace we must consciously “switch on” the positive, pro-social force between us. When we consciously behave kindly toward each other, despite our true feelings for each other, we set in motion the positive force that is latent within us. This “wisdom of connection” is not hypocrisy. We act contrary to our alienation because we want to install among us the positive force, which today’s human society desperately needs in order to survive.
It is great to be kind to one another because it makes us feel good about ourselves. However, kindness alone is not enough if we want to affect real change in society. The idea is to act with specific intention to complement the force of self-interest with that of common interest. Since this force is deactivated on the human level, we must activate it ourselves.
The benefit of creating this completion is that we regain our freedom. We can choose to what extent we activate each force and thereby navigate our lives consciously. Since nature keeps intensifying our egos, our work of balancing the two forces never ends, and neither does our freedom of choice between letting our egos run amok and complementing our egos with kindness and mutuality.
Peace Means Wholeness
This “peace process,” where we constantly and collectively choose to balance our egoism with mutuality, gives us far more than a sustainable society. It lets us into the mechanism operating reality. All of life is built upon this balance of forces, so when we deliberately create it within society, we gain a profound understanding of how this mechanism of existence works. In short, we perceive the very making of reality.
Today, it is imperative that we begin to build this complementing force between us. We have reached such high levels of mutual hatred that if we do not actively pursue unity to compensate for our hostility, we will destroy each other.
Peace, therefore, is neither a dream nor a dream reality. It is our life’s necessity. But we can achieve only if we all engage in it together.
We shouldn’t wait for someone else to do this work for us. Only those who are inclined to search for peace in the human society can understand the urgency of harnessing the positive force, and that only with it we will be able to secure a peaceful and harmonious life.
Featured in Haaretz